Edward Hopper at the MFA

Tonight Susan and I visited the Boston Museum of Fine Arts for the Edward Hopper exhibition. It was a good retrospective of the 20th Century artist known for iconic works such as Nighthawks. Oddly, the Nighthawks on display must have been a knockoff because it didn’t have James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, and Elvis in it. Seriously though, I love going the MFA exhibitions (except for the crowds) because I always learn a lot about the art by seeing it in context. I learned that Edward Hopper creates art that evokes solitude and melancholy and is a little bit pervy (after all he’s always peeking in windows at naked women).

The exhibition groups artworks together by themes such as place (Gloucester, Maine, New York City, and Truro), period (early and late works), and one room with three iconic paintings (the above-mentioned Nighthawks, New York Movie, and Office at Night). All his work evokes a very down to earth, day to day life that other people overlook and artists rarely deign to paint. A trolley turnaround where nothing is happening and no trolleys can be seen, people sitting alone in rooms, empty windows in empty buildings. While Hopper’s art is always representational, sometimes it’s abstract without being abstract. The last work on display for example is Sun in an Empty Room. Is it sun shining on bare walls and floors broom swept and ready for a new tenant or is it just a grouping of geometric shapes of different shades and colors?

The exhibit had some interesting quotes from and about Hopper. About his motivation for creating art, Hopper said “All I wanted to do was to paint sunlight on the side of a house.” About Gloucester, he stated “When everyone else would be painting ships and the waterfront, I’d just go around looking at houses.” Guy Pené du Bois commented about Hopper’s New York works that “His New York City is one that people with their restless need for change have overlooked.” The text in the Icons gallery notes that the scenes in the paintings seem to be from a story yet Hopper provides no details. “He does not tell stories, he provides moments within them.”

My favorite works from the exhibition:

Apartment Houses, 1923: Looking out a window, in a window, and then through another window at more windows. Rigid rectangular shapes are broken up only by a voluptuos maid and an overstuffed chair.

The Hill, 1926: In Gloucester, Hopper doesn’t paint pretty beaches or boats. In this painting he doesn’t even really paint houses but paints the street as a void between them. In the distance there is no scenic vista, just a tangle of telephone poles and rooftops.

The Mansard Roof, 1923: Reminds of a hotel in Newburyport. The fluid painting makes it look like the house is dancing in the breeze.

Freight Cars, Gloucester, 1928: Seaside New England has never looked more like the Heartland than it does here.

From Williamsburg Bridge, 1928: As a kid I enjoyed going up on the big bridges in New York and watching as the rooftops dropped away and vanished. Sometimes I’d see people in those buildings and wonder what it was like to live by the bridge. This painting brings me back to that part of my childhood.

Room in Brooklyn, 1932: This work is in the MFA general collection and I’ve loved it since I first saw it. No work better captures loneliness in a city teeming with millions of people.

Automat, 1927: It’s late at night and this woman has had a bad night. It’s cold out so she hasn’t taken off her coat and only takes of one glove to hold her coffee cup. Maybe there’s a draft coming in the door. It looks like a Degas or a Renoir, but it’s also undeniably New York.

New York Movie, 1939: I like how the pretty usher in her high heels is daydreaming off to the side while the movie plays. The text in the exhibition suggested she has to come up with her own fantasies since she’s seen the ones on the screen too many times.

Summertime, 1943: The sassy redhead in the sheer white dress is read to head out on the town. And do what?
Sun in an Empty Room, 1963: Reminds me of that moment when I’ve packed up everything and put it in the moving van and take one last look at the place I’ve lived.

The exhibition continues until August 19th, so go see it if you can. We realized that many of the art works don’t reproduce well on postcards so it’s good to see them in person.

2 thoughts on “Edward Hopper at the MFA

  1. From Williamsburg bridge.

    You spoke of riding accross NYC bridges as a child. As a youth I lived in one of the buildings in From Williamsburg Bridge. The two windows on the farthest right. I used to sit on the roof right where he’d painted it. 208 delancey street. My boy downstairs had a postcard of the painting.
    “Don’t let the landlord see this” he joked. “He liable to raise the rent.” The building is gone now.


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